Moremi Game Reserve

IMG_20180422_162953Moremi Game Reserve sits at the eastern edge of the Okavango Delta and is made up of a stunning patchwork of marshes, lagoons, shallow flooded pans, plains and forests. The landscape drastically changes between seasons so that you could visit the park multiple times and still feel like you were seeing it for the first time. Also, Moremi was the first game reserve in Africa to be established by a local tribe. In the 60s, Chief Moremi III’s wife, became highly concerned about the rapidly declining wildlife on their tribal land. In an unprecedented move, she boldly led her tribe to create a game reserve that now covers 5,000 square feet and protects one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa.

We visited Moremi Game Reserve in late April which is the end of the green season (low season). This was a unique year in that the rains came late so things were really muddy and driving was quite difficult in the weeks before our visit. We were worried that we might have to change plans, but luckily everything dried up by the time we got there. Moremi is a very popular place for self-drivers so you have to make a decision on whether you want have the best chances to see animals but get stuck dealing with a bunch of tourists on the roads.  I think its best to try to target a shoulder season to get less tourists and still have pretty good chances for wildlife. The flood waters usually start coming in late May/early June so that starts the peak season. Late May is a good time, as well as Sept/October.

img_20180430_190504_365.jpgThe drive from Maun was not as bad as expected. We were really lucky it was dry because some areas would have been an absolute nightmare if they were still muddy. We saw a ton of elephants along the way who often took us by surprise as they popped out in the road in front of the car! We arrived to South Gate around 4:30 which was really cutting it close because we still needed to travel through the park to make it to our campsite before dark. The park officials could have easily forced us to stay at the gate’s campsite overnight, but by a stroke of luck they let us keep going. They advised us to take the long way around the park to our campsite at Third Bridge to avoid the impassable marshy trails. We drove to Xanakana then around the southern edge of Moremi. It was a really long drive! The park official told us it would take an hour and a half…..well it took us 3! This longer route avoided water crossings which would have definitely been a no-go at night. It actually worked out well because we love night drives! But sadly we hardly saw even a single impala on our route.

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Third Bridge is the longest of the Moremi Bridges

Moremi is full of water crossing, a few of which now have small bridges you can drive over. The bridges are named in the order they were created – 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. We had to cross many of them for the first time at night. A lot of people get really nervous to go across these rickety old wooden bridges. We have heard a lot of stories of people who were so scared to drive across the bridge that they instead tried to drive through the marsh and got stuck. How silly! The bridges are great fun to drive across, you just have to go slow. Third bridge is the biggest one. It was partially flooded out when we got there which was a bit nerve racking. We were told it was fine to drive across so we knew it shouldn’t be a problem, however it’s a different story to do it at night when there is just a dark pool that you have to blindly drive into it!

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the flooded portion of Third Bridge – imagine driving into this abyss at night!

We finally got to Third Bridge Camp around 8:30pm. The rules say you are supposed to arrive no later than 6:30pm so we were pretty lucky no one made a fuss. We managed to find our campsite, but someone else had taken our spot (which is really annoying after a long day of driving). Luckily the campsite next to it was free and almost identical. I was expecting total bush camping in Moremi but pleasantly surprised to find a nice ablution block. They had water, a trash can and hot showers! What a treat!

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Our campsite at Third Bridge

We got up early the next morning to do the Mboma Island loop. It was an easy drive with no water crossings, but there were only a few open pans to be able to get a good view of wildlife. Many parts of the loop were covered in thick bush making game spotting difficult. We saw elephants, giraffe, zebra, all types of antelope and many birds. We found out later that we apparently missed two male lions that were hidden in thicket along the loop…dang!

That evening we visited some nearby pans and were pretty excited to spot a honey badger in the road. He immediately took off into the bush, and when we tried to followed he reared up at us like he wanted to attack. He made a hilariously terrible face, but then seemed to decide we were too big for him to mess with and scurried off.  A honey badger was at the top of Garrett’s animal wish list so we were pumped!

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the water crossing to dead tree island

On our third day we made a long trek out to Dead Tree Island. Most other people in the park were avoiding this areas because there was a big river crossing to get onto the island. We got our “feet wet” with a few smaller crossings on the way there but the final crossing to the island was the biggest we had seen. There was one fresh track so we knew it was do-able. A guide we met along the way said wild dogs had been seen on the island so we pretty much went for it without thinking much. Wild dogs are worth the risk!  We plunged forward and got submerged up to the bonnet! Garrett made me roll my window down because he was afraid I would get trapped inside if we sunk. Well the water almost started flooding in through the window! It was really exciting but also scary – mainly because of the fact we were carrying all our valuables and tons of electric equipment that could be destroyed. Our doors aren’t sealed well so water definitely flooded in and got the bottom of all our stuff soaked. If we had an empty safari vehicle it would be great fun to go charging through the river crossings!

We made it safely across and started our quest to find the dogs. We tried a few different tracks that all ended in marshes. We saw a car in the distance on the other side of the lagoon but couldn’t figure out a way across.

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It is very tricky trying to navigate through/around the marshy areas

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you can see why they call it dead tree island…the horizon is dotted with ominous tree skeletons!

It took a lot of trial and error to eventually make our way to the other side. We couldn’t spot anything but elephants….. and just as we were giving up hope on the wild dogs….a single head popped out of the grass along the road in front of us! It was only visible for a brief moment and we could have easily missed it. We quickly found the rest of the pack hidden in the surrounding tall grasses. Such a thrill! It was still early so we couldn’t tell if they had hunted or not for the morning. We sat with them for a long time. A few safari vehicles passed, they would snap a few pictures and then move on. We are always astonished at how uninterested many guests are in the wild dogs. Over the time we sat with them, they moved between 3 different areas, scouts went out and came back to report to the pack, and they played and ran through the marshes. We love observing all these behaviors. We only left them when the sun got too hot and we knew they would nap hard until dusk.group dogs

running water dogsDSC04118We headed further onto the opposite side of the island to find some lions hidden under a tree. Two males and a few cubs that were in no mood to be photographed. Dead Tree Island was my favorite spot in Moremi, the landscape is hauntingly beautiful and it is very open so you have a better chance of spotting animals.

Moremi is an open park – meaning no fences. The campsite are also open so you can often get animals visitors. We heard of a leopard walking through the camps across from us at night. I was really hoping for some excitement at ours, but we only had hippos. It was nice to see some familiar faces at the camp – some people we had met along our trip in other areas. Botswana has a pretty clear tourist trail that most people follow – so you are likely to run into the same people if you are self driving. We met some lovely south African wine farmers who gifted us with a couple of bottles of their wine!

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enjoying some of our gifted wine for a sundowner

I have so enjoyed all the wonderful people we’ve met along our trip – mostly South Africans who are unbelievably kind. Also lots of Europeans who are pretty funny. It is hilarious to see how ballsy people can be to come to Africa for the first time, rent a 4×4 for the first time and drive straight in to the wild bush! This is also why there are so many breakdowns, flooded cars and stranded drivers. We heard of a couple that broke down in Moremi less than one km from the main road. They were too afraid to walk through the bush so they slept in their car for three nights. They burned all 4 of their tires hoping someone would see. It was only when they didn’t arrive home to Germany that there family started calling people to go out searching for them. Yikes!

IMG_20180423_180429On our last morning we needed to make our way onward to Khwai which seemed like it could take a while. We slowly made our way to North Gate, making a few loops around waterholes. We spotted a gorgeous leopard crossing the road in the morning light. It was a wonderful surprise! We also found wild dogs that were cruising down the road. We tried to follow them for a bit into the bush but it was too thick.

zebrasWe stopped for breakfast at the Dombo Pools observation deck. This was the saddest elevated hide we have seen. With how much money Moremi GR makes from park fees, I was shocked that they could not maintain a proper hide and picnic site. The stairs were poorly constructed and unstable and there was not even a bench to sit on in the platform. Zimbabwe and South Africa have numerous very nice hides in their parks. I would expect that Botswana should be able to do the same.

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red lechwe are endemic to the wetlands of southern africa, their legs are covered with a water-repellent substance which allows them to run in knee deep water for protection

birds logMoremi is absolutely one of the best parks in Africa. There aren’t many places where you can self drive into such pristine open wilderness. Because of the drastic changes in water levels throughout the year, driving routes are not permanent so you get to feel like you are forging your own path through the bush. Various trails fan out and you can follow them until they eventually lead to water….then you can push your luck with a water crossing or backtrack to drive around.  It can be slow and difficult but exciting because it sort of feels like a puzzle. Very different from other self drive parks like Kruger with tarred roads. We were really lucky that there were hardly any other cars on the trails. We often felt like the only people in the park! There weren’t as many animals as we would have hoped because it was so wet and green but we still had some great sightings. And of course we soaked up all the dazzling scenery!  It is truly a special place. I can safely say that the Okavango Delta is and always will be one of my favorite spots in the world.IMG_20180428_080613

 

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